# Changing the “How to ask” panel to head off recipe questions

Today I was talking to a journalist, and she told me that she was checking out Stack Overflow. But of course, she's not a programmer, so somehow she found her way to this site.

Naturally, she asked for some kind of curry recipe. Naturally, her question was closed in seconds. I think somebody went to her house and spanked her, too, but that probably wasn't one of you.

I'm a big fan of the "no recipe" policy, but 95% of newcomers don't know about it, and they ask for recipes just to "try out" the site, and then they get spanked.

For now, we're going to try adding a little note to the "How to Ask" div on the question page that says:

"Requests for recipes are considered off topic, and will be closed."

Please keep an eye out to see if this helps. I hate giving so many newbies the first time experience of getting spanked.

(If need be, we can play with the wording there).

• Out of curiosity, was it this question? – Aaronut Dec 5 '10 at 0:37
• I don't think so... It would have been a newly created account from the last week. – Joel Spolsky Dec 5 '10 at 22:26
• That's odd... it's the only curry question I remember seeing in the past couple of weeks and definitely the only one that's been closed, and nothing's been deleted either except for one troll question. Not wanting to sound defensive here; I just think it would help to know which question it was, so that if we mis-handled it in some way (made somebody feel unwelcome) then we can learn from our mistake. For the most part I think we try to be polite to newbies when closing questions - although I do sometimes show a little less sympathy to the SOFU members because they should know better. – Aaronut Dec 7 '10 at 3:00

I'm wondering if a solution can be implemented for the benefit of all sites.

I know the adage that users don't read, but those users are even less likely to read a FAQ. How about placing the relevant text in the context of the Ask Question screen. Not all the text, just the key problem areas.

For the sake of illustration, something like this:

• Interesting idea. It's a lot of real estate, though; I worry that this might have some unpleasant side effects such as making a typical user scroll to see the tag entry (before having typed in any question text). Usability studies have shown that people will only look for a right sidebar if they can't find what they want in the main (center) content area, though, so there's definitely some merit to this if it can be done "right". – Aaronut Dec 7 '10 at 2:55
• @Aaronut: I thought I kept it pretty tight. 'Hard to tell from the screen shot. It addresses some of my passing concerns about the subtleties of scope that define many of these sites. This would allay a few of those horrid first-time experiences, where otherwise-well-meaning authors get ambushed for an innocent faux pas. – Robert Cartaino Dec 7 '10 at 3:24
• @Aaronut: Hmm... Thinking out loud: I wonder if that "on topic/off-topic" text would be more effective placed inside the text box -- the type that automatically disappears when a user clicks inside the form. – Robert Cartaino Dec 7 '10 at 3:32
• @Robert: I think that's a great idea to get the message across while saving on screen real estate. I'm not sure if it's possible to get the boldfaced text, but maybe that's not completely necessary. – Aaronut Dec 7 '10 at 15:29
• I'm perfectly okay with people having to scroll down to post a message. (they'd have to scroll down past tag entry to hit 'post', as you can't submit via return from a textarea) If they do, they don't have an excuse for not having read it. One alternative would be to either only show it to people who have posted a question (and should've read it), or have posted since the message was last modified. – Joe Dec 11 '10 at 1:17
• Just a thought, but since other sites would want something similar, perhaps you should bring this up on MSO too – Ivo Flipse Dec 11 '10 at 7:49
• I like this, and I think it's worth investing the real estate so everyone sees it from the start. Maybe show it just to newbies? – Pekka Mar 29 '11 at 17:07

I didn't know you could change that text - if I'd known I probably would have asked for this a long time ago!

Too bad it happened to a journalist, of all people. Still, glad to hear that you guys are on the ball, and I want to say that I whole-heartedly approve of the updated wording.

(P.S. I don't really consider closed questions to be a spanking - but I guess people who are new to SE wouldn't necessarily know that either.)